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Chapter 15: Dancing on The Edge of Chaos?

Posted on 26 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People are going to believe what they want to believe. It’s what I believe is best going forward for our offense and for our football team. That’s not to say anybody can’t do the job or didn’t do the job. Cam was doing a heck of a job here – doing a heck of a job here for a long time. Nobody knows that better than me, and nobody has stated that more times. I believe that. I also believe that right now at this time, the timing says this is the best thing, and this is what we’re going to do.”

– John Harbaugh (December 10, 2012)

 

 

THE SHORT RIDE HOME FROM Fed Ex Field after an excruciating loss was particularly disturbing for John Harbaugh. On the bus he started thinking about where the Baltimore Ravens would be in the coming weeks if things remained the same and this team continued to perform inconsistently. He’d been thinking about the end of this season since the end of last season. Harbaugh was a big picture guy with all of his assistant coaches. It’s the NFL – Not For Long. Change is inevitable.

But when exactly is the right time to make a glacial movement in philosophy? When, exactly, do you decide to decide to make a change in personnel? And how do you know if it’s the right decision?

“I was on the bus back from the Redskins game, and I just did it,” Harbaugh said. “I just decided this is what we needed to do.”

Twelve hours later, head coach John Harbaugh brought his longtime friend, former boss and current offensive coordinator Cam Cameron into his office in Owings Mills and fired him. Later in the afternoon, Harbaugh did his usual Monday press conference.

“We’ve replaced Cam [Cameron] with Jim Caldwell,” he began. “It’s been something that we went through last night and this morning and had a conversation with Cam real early this morning and then with Jim. And I just want to say that Cam Cameron has done an excellent job here over the last, almost, five years as our offensive coordinator. The record proves that. When you take a look at what’s been accomplished on offense for the last four years – the games that have been won, the points that have been scored, and really, by every measurement – Cam is a very good football coach. He is a loyal, hard-working guy. He’s a great friend. Obviously, it’s a difficult thing, personally, to do something and make a move like that with any coach, especially guys that you’ve been battling with for all these years, and Cam has been right in there battling. He has been a member of this team, and I’m proud of what he has accomplished here. At this time, the move is made to give us a chance to be the best that we can be. And that’s not saying anybody can’t do it, but it’s just an opportunity to try to get this thing going and become the best offense and the best team we can be, and we feel like it’s what is best for the team at this time. And, that’s why we made the move. There’s no more to it than that. We’ll go forward with that. So, Jim will take over. That started this morning. He’s working on the game plan with the rest of the staff. The rest of the staff is on board, and we’ll go to work like we always do and see how it plays out.”

In trying to piece together the story of how it had gotten to this point, this desperate place where Harbaugh felt he had no other option but to fire Cameron on the bus ride home from Fed Ex Field in Week 14 of the season, you have to go back to the biggest of big picture philosophies in Owings Mills.

“What gives us the best chance to win the Super Bowl?”

Much like when Bisciotti fired Billick nearly five years earlier, or when Billick fired his pal and offensive coordinator Jim Fassel during a bye week in 2006, this was as much about the team as it was any one or two issues, disagreements, or personal relationships.

The truth? It was hard to find anyone in the building who truly trusted, fully understood or had an ideal two-way communication

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Chapter 14: Family beefs and “Care”frontation

Posted on 25 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

“I’ve got a rule. I never, ever hold a grudge. And I kind of a have a rule that nobody else is allowed to hold a grudge, either. There are no grudges. We’re a bunch of guys. We don’t hold grudges. Right? We move on.”

– John Harbaugh (November 2012)

 

 

 

On Wednesday, November 28, 2012 the Baltimore Ravens reported to work in Owings Mills with a 9-2 record. No matter how unimpressive the results or statistics were on either side of the ball or how fortunate their fate seemed, it would be hard not to make the playoffs. One more win and the Ravens would have a seat in the tournament and a shot at the confetti for the fifth year in a row.

And in a strange quirk of NFL scheduling, once again the Pittsburgh Steelers were next up, the second meeting in 14 days between the bitter rivals. Once again it appeared that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would be unavailable with his shoulder injury but instead of Byron Leftwich, this time it would be 15-year veteran Charlie Batch lining up under center at M&T Bank Stadium for the black and gold. All of the obvious discomfort that Leftwich had 10 days earlier was the result of two broken ribs he sustained at the hands of the Ravens defense in Pittsburgh. Batch started for the Steelers in Cleveland and lost 20-14 while throwing three interceptions just a few hours prior to the Ravens’ 4th & 29 miracle in San Diego. The Steelers were fading at 6-5. The Ravens were 9-2 and on a four-game winning streak, including back-to-back road wins.Silver had been at the Ravens game on Sunday in San Diego and was a seasoned reporter who knew a good story when he heard one. Iconoclastic, inquisitive, and fully cognizant of all aspects of the coach-player-media privilege, as well as sourced throughout the NFL, Silver knows the difference between on the record and off the record.

Good journalism is all in the eyes of the beholder. One veteran sports reporter’s account of a behind-the-scenes confrontation a month earlier holds a lot of weight when no one is issuing denials, and everyone agrees it was unique and productive. Even when some personnel don’t want to put their names to quotes or information, it was clear there was substance and clarity in the story.

All was happy in Owings Mills during Steelers Week until Wednesday morning when a fascinating story appeared at Yahoo Sports. NFL columnist Mike Silver authored a piece that was widely shared via the web and social media.

Headline: “John Harbaugh kept Ravens on track despite near mutiny at meeting in October”

Harbaugh wasn’t necessarily pissed off that the story was written – Silver approached him after the joyous win and

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-3 win over Washington

Posted on 11 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their preseason opener in a 23-3 final over Washington, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I made my feelings clear about the Ravens defense at the conclusion of draft weekend, and the group didn’t disappoint in the preseason opener. Playing fast and physical, Baltimore held the Redskins to a measly 47 yards and four first downs in the first half. You could see the potential.

2. Brent Urban was the best player on the field, bringing inside pressure and consistently penetrating the backfield against the run. He finished with two forced fumbles, a sack, and four tackles to lead a revamped defense. Not bad for his debut as the starting 5-technique defensive end.

3. With eight key players sitting out, I’m not sure what anyone could have reasonably expected from the Ravens offense. The running game wasn’t overly productive at 3.6 yards per carry in the first half, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg stuck with it and the group played turnover-free football.

4. Those absences aside, Ryan Mallett did nothing to silence his detractors by averaging an ugly 3.2 yards per pass attempt. John Harbaugh said Mallett played “winning football” after the game, which was reminiscent of Brian Billick’s descriptions of Kyle Boller after the many defense-led wins of yesteryear.

5. The start of the game certainly felt familiar with the defense forcing a three-and-out, the offense going three-and-out, and Sam Koch placing a punt inside the 5-yard line.

6. After a miss from 43 yards that was negated by a penalty, Justin Tucker later restored order to the universe with a 59-yard field goal to end the first half. Yes, he’s missed a few more in camp than I recall in previous summers, but I’ll guess he’ll be OK.

7. Second-round pick Tyus Bowser had an strong debut with three tackles, a quarterback hit, and solid all-around work at outside linebacker, but fellow rookie Tim Williams struggled to set the edge and remains a work in progress as anything more than a situational pass rusher for now.

8. Rookie free agent Jaylen Hill showed why coaches have been impressed with him in practices as he defended the deep ball effectively and picked off Colt McCoy late in the first half. His night would have been even better had he not whiffed on a corner blitz.

9. Tim White made a superb adjustment on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Josh Woodrum late in the third quarter and looked capable as the return specialist in the first half. The rookie free agent’s speed has stood out since organized team activities in the spring.

10. Keenan Reynolds returning a punt 46 yards was the feel-good moment of the night as Harbaugh’s smile on the sideline epitomized how much everyone is rooting for the former Navy star. He still has a long way to go to crack the 53-man roster, but he’s improved from last year.

11. The best news of the night was the Ravens seemingly escaping the game without any major injuries. In contrast, Washington lost linebacker Trent Murphy and safety Su’a Cravens to knee injuries. Coaches hold their breath every second of the preseason.

12. First-round pick Marlon Humphrey went through a rigorous pre-game workout and appears poised to return to practice after a week-long absence. However, Breshad Perriman was nothing more than an observer and doesn’t appear particularly close to returning from a hamstring injury.

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Ravens sit multiple offensive starters for preseason opener

Posted on 10 August 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Drawing many conclusions about the Ravens offense in Thursday’s preseason opener against Washington won’t be easy.

Dealing with a number of injuries and wanting to keep other veterans out of harm’s way, head coach John Harbaugh held nine key offensive players out of Thursday’s exhibition contest with the Redskins. Quarterback Joe Flacco (back), wide receiver Breshad Perriman (hamstring), and projected starting offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (shoulder), Alex Lewis (undisclosed), and Austin Howard (shoulder) were all sitting out for health reasons, but veteran wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace, running back Danny Woodhead, and tight end Benjamin Watson joined them on the sideline as healthy scratches.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore defense was suiting up its full assortment of healthy players as the likes of linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley and defensive backs Eric Weddle and Jimmy Smith were all going through pre-game warmups. Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Sheldon Price, and Maurice Canady were the only notable defensive players who weren’t suited up to play.

Other players out for Thursday’s game included wide receiver Kenny Bell (hamstring) and linebacker Lamar Louis (undisclosed).

The Ravens were wearing white jerseys and white pants while Washington donned burgundy tops with gold pants as these NFL neighbors were meeting in the preseason for the 10th time since 2003. Baltimore holds a 6-3 advantage in preseason encounters.

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Ravens-Redskins preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 09 August 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are set to begin their 22nd preseason after one of the more tumultuous starts to training camp in team history.

Having already lost seven players to season-ending injuries, retirement, or suspension since the beginning of June, Baltimore is still without starting quarterback Joe Flacco while other impact players have missed substantial time in camp. The injuries create a balancing act between keeping valuable assets out of harm’s way and the desire to take advantage of live-game reps against Washington on Thursday night.

“We’ll work it out as we go. We’ll see,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Some guys will play, some guys won’t. You just have to play it by ear. We have a plan, but I’m just not really into it right now as far as sharing it. It can change. We have a plan until the shooting starts; then plans change.”

Especially with Flacco unavailable, the Ravens will likely focus on the evaluation of their running game after hiring senior offensive assistant Greg Roman in the offseason to revamp the league’s 28th-ranked rushing attack in the offseason. Of course, that could prove to be difficult with an offensive line that’s currently less than 100 percent.

The final result means little, but the first preseason game provides context for evaluating players who’ve only been practicing against each another to this point. The coaching staff will eagerly be watching how young players respond to the bright lights of a game after settling into the familiar routine of camp workouts.

“They are ready to go play against somebody else, and they have been playing against each other now for almost two weeks,” Harbaugh said. “These are pretty tough practices and tough drills. They know each other pretty well right now, so they are ready to get in that environment and play a game and cut it loose a little bit and see where they are.”

Thursday marks the 10th time these NFL neighbors have met in the preseason with the Ravens holding the 6-3 edge over Washington, but the Redskins won a 16-10 regular-season contest at M&T Bank Stadium last October, which prompted the firing of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman the next day.

Baltimore has a 24-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released ahead of Thursday night’s game.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not consider any veteran players who could be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: QB Joe Flacco (back), OT Austin Howard (shoulder), WR Breshad Perriman (hamstring), WR Kenny Bell (hamstring), CB Sheldon Price (undisclosed), CB Maurice Canady (knee), RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), OL Nico Siragusa (knee), CB Tavon Young (knee)
DOUBTFUL: OL Alex Lewis (undisclosed), CB Marlon Humphrey (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), WR Chris Matthews (undisclosed), CB Brandon Boykin (undisclosed)

Five players to watch Thursday night

QB Ryan Mallett

Expectations should be realistic for a backup, but the Ravens wasted no time re-signing Mallett to a one-year, $2 million contract at the start of free agency, suggesting they have some level of confidence in him to be a suitable No. 2 option. His first few practices of training camp were brutal, but the 29-year-old has rebounded to play at a more acceptable level in recent days, perhaps a product of the Colin Kaepernick discussion dying down. With Flacco’s return still expected to be sooner than later, Mallett showing command of the offense with at least some modest production should quell some concerns.

OLB Matt Judon

Used as a situational pass rusher as a rookie, Judon has received most of the summer reps as the starting strong-side outside linebacker, a spot shared by Albert McClellan and Elvis Dumervil last season. In order to be more effective in pass coverage, the 2016 fifth-round pick dropped weight and is strikingly leaner while still showing enough strength to set the edge and rush the passer. Judon ranked third on the team with four sacks in 2016, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees would prefer to see him double that total as the Ravens try to turn the heat up on a pass rush that was underwhelming a year ago.

C Ryan Jensen

The Ravens traded veteran starter Jeremy Zuttah in the offseason, but the sudden retirement of John Urschel at the start of training camp short-circuited the expected competition at center and left Jensen as the default starter. He brings the size and physicality that should work better in Roman’s downhill blocking schemes, but Jensen has only nine career starts under his belt, prompting many to continue clamoring for a Nick Mangold signing. General manager Ozzie Newsome spent most of his few remaining cap dollars on new right tackle Austin Howard, so Jensen needs to show he can do the job.

DL Patrick Ricard

Asking about individual players during training camp is often pointless because coaches are rarely anything but positive in their remarks, but you pay attention when a player’s name is mentioned without being prompted, something that’s happened more than once with Ricard. The 6-foot-3, 304-pound rookie free agent from Maine has lined up all over the defensive line and has stood his ground while making plays, putting himself in the roster conversation in a deep position group. Ricard will need to show the same promise in games, but he has looked the part of a solid rotational NFL defensive lineman.

WR Quincy Adeboyejo

The undrafted Ole Miss product is a bit of a mystery as his good speed and 6-foot-3, 197-pound frame didn’t translate to a standout college career, but he has turned heads, beating the likes of even Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr to make long catches in practices. Of course, making plays in camp workouts isn’t the same as producing in games, but he should receive ample opportunities with veterans such as Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace unlikely to make more than a cameo Thursday. After failing to develop so many late-round wideouts over the years, the Ravens would sure love to get lucky with Adeboyejo.

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Ravens not good enough to overcome coaching errors

Posted on 09 October 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman deserved a pass last season.

With a lack of speed at the skill positions and a run of injuries that made the offense look like a preseason unit over the final two months, how could you fairly critique the assistant in his first season in Baltimore?

But the red flags were there. The running game lacked productivity or commitment — or both — and the passing attacked often lacked rhyme or reason. A year later, the same problems persist as the Ravens offense turned in an embarrassing performance in being blanked over the final 44 minutes of a 16-10 loss to Washington, who entered Sunday ranked 29th in the NFL in total defense and 26th in points allowed.

It looked so promising early with a nine-play, 75-yard opening drive that resulted in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Crockett Gillmore. In the first quarter, the Ravens went 3-for-5 on third down, rushed 11 times for 74 yards, and accumulated 146 yards of offense.

If only the game had ended after Justin Tucker’s 31-yard field goal to give the Ravens a 10-6 lead to begin the second quarter.

Over the last three quarters, Baltimore went 0-for-10 on third down and ran the ball eight times, one of those a fourth-down scramble by Flacco on the final drive. Instead of continuing to try to gash the Redskins with the run, the Ravens appeared to go away from the ground game whenever they could as Flacco threw the ball 46 times for just 210 yards. The ninth-year quarterback has now thrown a whopping 98 times over the last two games for just 508 yards, an anemic 5.2 yards per attempt.

If the opponent is truly adjusting to take away the run, then the passing game is hopelessly broken to not be able to take advantage. There’s no excuse to fall apart after the 37-year-old Steve Smith exited the game late in the first quarter with a sprained ankle.

But as the passing game languished, Terrance West averaged 8.6 yards per carry on 11 rushes on Sunday.

Eleven.

He was responsible for the two longest plays of the game for Baltimore with runs of 35 and 27 yards while Flacco dropped back to throw 50 times and had nothing longer than a 15-yard completion on the day.

“We didn’t get first downs,” said head coach John Harbaugh when asked about the disappearance of the running game. “Eight rushes [after the first quarter] and how many three-and-outs? How many runs do you want? That’s the bottom line. You have to move the ball, you have to get first downs. We have to have more plays. How many plays did we have if you’re not going to count the two-minute drive? You just have to look at how many plays we had in those situations.

“I didn’t think we abandoned the run. I would’ve liked to have seen us score. Once we got the turnover down [in the red zone in the second quarter], we threw it and got nothing there. Maybe we could’ve run it there if I was going to look back.”

The weekly excuses for not running the ball are wearing thin, and the frustration was apparent in the post-game locker room. Trestman isn’t solely to blame as the offensive line is banged up, receivers are dropping too many passes and struggling to gain separation, and Flacco isn’t playing at his best. Players must execute and the opponent is also competing, but even the most even-keeled observer has to question whether the maligned coordinator is able to put this offense in the best position to succeed at this point.

Do changes need to be made?

“I’m not going to get into all that. We’re not playing well enough,” said Flacco, who added that it was “embarrassing” to play that way in front of a disenchanted home crowd. “We’re not making plays. Yeah, there’s probably only a couple plays, we’re only giving ourselves a couple of plays to be made, but when they’re there, we’re just not making them. We are running off the field way too much. Definitely, definitely not fun to be out there today after the first series.”

Of course, the offense wasn’t the only problem on Sunday.

The special teams continue to struggle as the Redskins scored their first touchdown on an 85-yard punt return by Jamison Crowder in the first quarter. A bad Sam Koch punt early in the third quarter set up Washington at midfield for its eventual second touchdown.

On defense, the secondary buckled too much in the third quarter and linebacker C.J. Mosley’s fumble through the end zone on what looked like a game-changing interception was a back-breaker, but too much pressure is being placed on a much-improved unit that allowed only 10 points on Sunday.

But it was another coaching gaffe in the second quarter that stood out in the six-point defeat.

After linebacker Zach Orr forced and recovered a fumble inside the red zone, the Ravens failed to pick up a first down on three plays and lined up to try a 35-yard field goal to push the lead to 13-6. However, the Ravens called for their kicker to throw a pass despite the windy conditions at M&T Bank Stadium. Unsurprisingly, the pass to Gillmore was underthrown and fell incomplete.

Tucker said after the game that they had practiced the trick play — which included him initially lining up as a left-footed kicker — over the last five years, but there had been no discussion on the sideline about the crosswind potentially impacting the ability to run the fake. He maintained that the wind was not a factor on his throw and suggested that Gillmore may have slipped on the play, but the failure was neither of those players’ fault.

How you call a play for a non-quarterback to throw the ball in less-than-ideal conditions is baffling. We don’t know how the game might have changed if the Ravens had successfully kicked there, but they would have only needed a field goal to tie the game on their final drive if the score had been 16-13.

“You can second-guess it, but I’m not second-guessing it,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve stood up here for nine years and said we’re going to be aggressive. People are going to have to defend fakes, they’re going to have to defend us going for it on fourth down. That’s just the way we’re going to continue to play, because that’s what we believe in. We believe in giving our players a chance to make plays, and we’re going to keep doing it. We’re not apologizing for that.”

The head coach’s answer was predictable, but there’s really no defending the call.

Plenty went wrong in the loss and players must take their share of the responsibility, but the Ravens just aren’t good enough to overcome the type of coaching errors that were made on Sunday.

Harbaugh and Trestman needed to be better in what was a very winnable game.

Now, the Ravens are left to rebound from two straight home losses that have all but washed away the good vibes of a 3-0 start.

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Ravens-Redskins: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 09 October 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — For the second straight week, the Ravens have benched a starting player — at least sort of.

Struggling since a strong performance in the season opener, veteran cornerback Shareece Wright has been deactivated and will not play against the Washington Redskins on Sunday. This comes a week after the Ravens deactivated former starter Justin Forsett, who was released on Tuesday.

Roughly 15 minutes after the inactives list was released, however, the Ravens said Wright has been experiencing back spasms “recently” despite that not appearing on the injury report at any point during the week. That late announcement was understandably met with skepticism.

Candidates who could see time at outside cornerback include Will Davis and Sheldon Price, who rotated lining up with the starting defense during pre-game warmups. Veteran Jerraud Powers and rookie Tavon Young could also be in the mix there, but they are each better suited to play the slot corner spot.

With 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley out for the second straight game with a foot injury and third-year reserve James Hurst faring poorly last week, Baltimore will shift rookie left guard Alex Lewis to left tackle. Of course, Lewis might have been the starter at left tackle in Week 4 if not for a concussion that sidelined him for most of the practice week ahead of the game against Oakland.

On Friday, Lewis expressed confidence in his ability to slide outside since he played left tackle at Nebraska and practiced quite a bit at the position during the summer.

The Ravens will also have a new left guard on Sunday as John Urschel will receive his first start of the season. The 2014 fifth-round pick entered training camp as the favorite to start there, but a shoulder injury sidelined him for an extended period of time and opened the door for Lewis to win the job.

This marks the Ravens’ third different combination at left tackle and left guard in as many weeks, which is far from ideal for the league’s 19th-ranked offense trying to get on track in 2016.

As anticipated and discussed throughout the week, rookie running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) is active and will make his NFL debut. He is expected to serve as a change of pace to starter Terrance West, but the Ravens are intrigued with the fourth-round pick’s potential if he can stay healthy.

Veteran return specialist Devin Hester (thigh) is active after missing practices earlier in the week.

Looking to clean up their shoddy special-teams play over the last two weeks, the Ravens have deactivated rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa and rookie wide receiver Chris Moore, who had played in each of the first four games. Tight ends Daniel Brown and Darren Waller are both active and figure to play substantial roles on special teams after being moved to the 53-man roster earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (elbow) is active despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Washington will need him to help take advantage of a vulnerable left side of the offensive line for Baltimore.

The Redskins already ruled out starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland (ankle) on Friday.

The Ravens and Washington are meeting for the sixth time ever in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 3-2 advantage and a 1-0 record at home. However, the Redskins won the last meeting between these teams, a 31-28 overtime final at FedEx Field in 2012.

Baltimore will be wearing purple jerseys with white pants while the Redskins don white tops and burgundy pants for Sunday’s game. Uniforms for both teams will feature pink accessories as an initiative for Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Sunday’s referee is Ron Torbert.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore called for mostly sunny skies with temperatures reaching the mid-60s and only a slight chance of precipitation at kickoff. However, wind will be a factor at up to 22 miles per hour throughout the afternoon.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Shareece Wright
OT Ronnie Stanley
WR Chris Moore
S Marqueston Huff
LB Kamalei Correa
DT Willie Henry
LB Matt Judon

WASHINGTON
QB Nate Sudfeld
WR Josh Doctson
CB Bashaud Breeland
CB Dashaun Phillips
S Su’a Cravens
OL Vinston Painter
DE Anthony Lanier

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Ravens-Redskins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 08 October 2016 by Luke Jones

No matter what local fans might wish, the Ravens don’t have any real rivalry with the Washington Redskins.

But that doesn’t mean Sunday’s game isn’t important for Baltimore with two straight road games looming ahead of the Week 8 bye and a difficult second half of the season. The Ravens don’t want to lose a second consecutive home game and all semblance of momentum after a 3-0 start.

Washington has shaken off an 0-2 start at home to win its last two contests and will try to improve to 2-0 on the road behind the NFL’s eighth-ranked offense.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens welcome Washington to M&T Bank Stadium for just the second time ever in the regular season. Baltimore is 3-2 in the all-time series, but the Redskins won the last regular-season meeting between these teams, a 31-28 overtime finish in Landover on Dec. 9, 2012.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Rookie Alex Lewis will shift outside to left tackle to help stabilize Baltimore’s pass protection. With Ronnie Stanley expected to miss his second straight game, Lewis will get the call to play tackle and will be an upgrade from the overmatched James Hurst. It helps that Washington lacks an explosive pass rush and outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is questionable to play with an elbow injury, but the Ravens could still have their hands full with edge rusher Trent Murphy, who already has four sacks. Washington will collect two sacks, but Joe Flacco will deal with a cleaner pocket than last week.

2. Washington tight end Jordan Reed will find the end zone against a shaky red-zone defense from the Ravens. The Baltimore defense is one of the best in the NFL despite opponents going 7-for-8 scoring touchdowns in trips to the red zone, but Washington ranks 30th in red-zone offense so far this year. The Ravens have been very good against tight ends all season, but the linebacker coverage showed some cracks against Oakland last week and Reed is the best tight end they’ve faced all year. He’ll finish off a long drive with a touchdown catch against Baltimore.

3. Kenneth Dixon will flash in his debut, but Terrance West will lead the way against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. After facing a shoddy Oakland defense last week, the Ravens will find plenty of room against a group allowing 4.9 yards per carry this season. Dixon will receive a handful of touches as a change of pace, but West deserves to carry the load after rushing for a career-high 113 yards last week. He may not reach that mark again, but Baltimore will commit to the run early and gain 135 yards to move the chains and keep Flacco from having to throw it 40-plus times again.

4. The Ravens defense will force Kirk Cousins to throw more than 40 times and pick him off at a critical moment. Baltimore ranks fifth in run defense and is allowing 3.7 yards per carry despite giving up an 85-yard touchdown run in Week 2. Meanwhile, the Washington offense thrives with an effective running game and would like to limit Cousins’ attempts from the pocket. The Ravens will come up on the winning end in this battle as they’ve allowed 2.7 yards per carry on non-Isaiah Crowell touchdowns this season. Washington’s reliance on the pass will lead to a crucial fourth-quarter turnover.

5. The Baltimore offense will be more balanced and efficient while the defense will bend without breaking in a 24-19 win over the Redskins. It’s impossible to expect anything but a close game on Sunday as the Ravens haven’t won a game by more than one possession since the 2014 postseason and 18 of their last 20 regular-season games have been decided by one possession. However, the Washington defense ranks 29th in yards allowed and will be without starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland. The Redskins will move the ball with an effective passing game, but the Ravens will make the adjustments to clean up their red-zone defense this week, which will be the difference in a close game.

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Larry Michael previews the Redskins chances heading into Foxborough

Posted on 03 November 2015 by WNST Staff

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Despite strong finish, Ravens defense on pace to set dubious record

Posted on 02 November 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens defense was far from perfect in Sunday’s 29-26 win over San Diego, but the struggling unit could take satisfaction in a strong fourth-quarter performance.

Despite surrendering another big play — this time a 70-yard touchdown from Philip Rivers to Malcom Floyd late in the third quarter — and allowing the Chargers to go 7-for-10 on third downs through three periods, Dean Pees’ defense buckled down in the final 15 minutes, allowing just 72 yards on 15 offensive plays and making stops on all three of San Diego’s third-down attempts.

Holding the Chargers to a game-tying 49-yard field goal with 2:29 remaining in game, the Baltimore defense left Joe Flacco and the offense enough time for a game-winning drive that culminated with a Justin Tucker 39-yarder as time expired. San Diego’s 371 yards were the lowest total allowed by the Ravens since Week 4 and the third-lowest total given up by Baltimore this season.

“With a win, everything is great, but we’ve still got to go back and work on some things,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith, who cited that the secondary played extensive man coverage on Sunday. “We gave up a huge play too easily, and that could change a game against a team on another night. Those are kind of the things I’m looking at right now. But like I said, we won, we’re happy. We’ve got work to do.”

In addition to eliminating the big plays, the Ravens must figure out ways to force turnovers as Sunday marked the fifth consecutive game without a takeaway. Baltimore is tied with Dallas for the fewest takeaways in the NFL with four, but the 2-5 Cowboys already had their bye and have played only seven games so far.

The Ravens’ last takeaway came in the fourth quarter of their Week 3 loss to Cincinnati when Elvis Dumervil stripped Andy Dalton of the football and C.J. Mosley returned the fumble for a touchdown. Counting overtime, 22 periods of football have passed since the Ravens last created a turnover.

Having forced 40 or more turnovers in a season three times — 2000, 2003, and 2006 — in franchise history, the Ravens are currently on pace to set the NFL record for fewest takeaways in a non-strike season. The Washington Redskins own the record with just 12 in 2006, a season in which the Ravens forced 40 turnovers on their way to the best regular-season record in franchise history at 13-3.

Interestingly enough, the 1982 Baltimore Colts forced only 11 turnovers in an abbreviated nine-game schedule that came after a players’ strike. The Colts finished 0-8-1 in their penultimate season in Baltimore.

Even if the Ravens are able to pick up the pace in the takeaway department to avoid making NFL history, they have a long way to go to match the franchise-worst mark of 22 takeaways set in 1996 and matched last season. Baltimore also had only 24 takeaways in 2013, the fifth-lowest mark in franchise history.

The Ravens defense must eradicate the big plays that have been back-breaking in several close losses this season, but creating a few more turnovers would go a long way in finding a few more wins in the second half of 2015.

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